In June this year, Erastus Kibage Mwangi’s lifeless body was found hanging in a lodging in Kutus, Krinyaga County. Before ending his life, Mwangi had a few days earlier killed his wife, Grace Njeri, his 11-year-old daughter Joy Wangari and five-year-old son Maxwell Wachira in Wangige, Kiambu.
According to neighbours, there was nothing to indicate that Mwangi could commit such a crime against his family members.
“They seemed happy. Everything seemed to be normal,” said one of Mwangi’s neighbours.
During the same month, a man in Nairobi’s Umoja estate had killed his wife and two children in yet another case of vicious domestic wrangle.
And in September, there were two separate cases of domestic feuds that also ended in the deaths of spouses. Daniel Mwangi, who killed his wife Jacinta Nyambura, was said to be a “peaceful man who never engaged in a fight.”
The most shocking case though was that of Jamin Mukobero, the Kakamega man who butchered nine family members and injured others. In the middle of the night in April 2001, Mukobero began his killing spree by hacking his then pregnant wife with a machete before waking up the rest of the family members, killing them instantly.
Before the killings, Mukobero had been described by villagers as being “calm and kind.” Such cases where domestic squabbles result in deaths of family members are on the rise. Hardly a week passes without a report of similar cases where ordinary folk kill their family members.
Though women have joined the murderous mob, most of these atrocities are committed by men, some of whom have had no previous records of violent behaviour or visible cases of mental disorders or severe depression.
One’s status in society is no deterrent to these vices. Policemen and women, people entrusted with safeguarding the lives of other Kenyans have used the same guns to end the lives of their family members, especially in the so-called crimes of passion.
Even lawyers, people well versed in the laws that govern the family unit, have not been spared the scourge of domestic killings in Kenya.
Miriam Njeri, a wife and mother of one says the increasing cases of domestic violence getting awry have many women on the edge.
“It is getting scary since a woman may never know when the man may come home and do the unthinkable. Imagine your next door neighbour being killed by her husband who all along has been your husband’s friend. What are you supposed to think?” she poses.
Njeri takes this argument a little further. She peers into the increasing cases of killings of spouses by people serving in security organs and draws worrisome analysis.
“A police officer kills his or her spouse and perhaps the children as well. This officer has been a colleague of your partner as well. What could they have been discussing at their work stations? It is a worrying trend,” she says.
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The traditional home setting, where love and mutual respect are supposed to thrive, is slowly turning to be one of the most dangerous places.
Psychologists have attempted to offer various theories as to why ‘loving’ family members turn on each other with fatal consequences.
Life stressors such as loss of a job, a history of family-related violence and lack of self control are among the reasons cited. Usually, one’s partner and anything and anyone associated with him or her are the victims.
Speaking in a local TV station recently, Margaret Mbuthi, a psychologist, said high levels of frustration coupled with the fast-paced lifestyle are contributing factors to the family killings being witnessed in the country.
We are becoming a society that is becoming very impatient and with low tolerant levels to frustration. We have set high targets and standards that must be met and anything that stands in the way is possibly interpreted as a block,” she said.
According to Ken Njiru of Uungwana Initiative, the problem goes much deeper than is highlighted whenever such incidents occur.
He says the erosion of the foundation in society that clearly defined the role of men has been a big factor in the current behaviour being witnessed.
In the past, he says, the African society never had problems with either the boy or girl child unlike the current situation where “the girl child has been propped up to the disadvantage of the boy child,”
“Look at how many financial support organs that have been created to advance money to women. Women can access money easily than men today yet the same men are expected to perform their manly duties. Without supporting any atrocities, such a scenario leaves a very frustrated man who can do anything,” says Njiru.
Njiru cites the case of some countries in Europe that drafted such stringent laws against sexual abuse that it became almost difficult for a man to woo a woman.
“The result was a spike in homosexuality as it was easier for a man to woo a fellow man. A lady from the region once told me that she wishes men could become men again”
Stress has been cited as a big contributor to the rampant killings being witnessed in the family. Some of this stress comes from unresolved family conflicts.
If family members do not know how to discuss conflicts, they suppress their feelings. These are allowed to fester for long periods of time. Ultimately, the situation easily leads to explosive behaviour and violence that many times turns fatal.
In addition, drug and substance abuse also contribute to violence. Not surprisingly, drug and alcohol abuse is also caused by high rates of unemployment in the country.
Where a man cannot adequately meet the needs of his family, conflicts occur.
Experts point out various triggers of rising cases of violence. The two common ones are money-related stress and infidelity.
In a few instances, a spouse can turn his or her anger on one’s family when there is a threat of separation or divorce. This happens in cases where the spouse threatens to leave, or actually leaves.
Although the action of killers within the family come as a shock to other people, psychologists argue that in some instances there are those who kill to protect their family.
In some cases though, it is difficult to spot the red flag because some people are good at keeping up appearances.